Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross' soundtrack for David Fincher's Mank beautifully captures a bygone era of Hollywood
In their fourth cinematic collaboration with Fincher, industrial rockers of Nine Inch Nails-fame and film composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have released the most refreshing soundtrack of this lockdown year.
David Fincher’s inimitable storytelling style along with the superlative cast of Mank recreates the glorious 1940s Hollywood, for an audience that is forced by a pandemic to watch it on the digital platform. While the recently-released movie is much-needed dose of nostalgia, warmth and vitality in the over-crowded film streaming space today, its score is the fuel that drives the performances to excellence.
Starring Gary Oldman who plays Mankiewicz aka “Mank”, the scriptwriter of the 1930s, the film traces Mank’s task of writing Orson Welles’ famous film Citizen Kane. Records maintain that Mank had a 90-day deadline to complete it and spends much of his time recovering from a car crash while also finding an accurate way to describe the protagonist. The film rekindles discussions over just how much was Mank’s contribution in the writing department against Welles’. With delightful performances by Lily Collins and Charles Dance in crucial roles, Mank is Fincher’s retelling of his late father Jack Fincher’s script. In typical Fincher style, the movie moves back and forth in time to recreate how the script of the iconic film Citizen Kane was written and how Mank drew inspiration from real-life movie personalities (William Hearst, Marion Davies) of the time.
In their fourth cinematic collaboration with Fincher, industrial rockers of Nine Inch Nails-fame and film composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have released the most refreshing soundtrack of this lockdown year. They previously worked together on Fincher’s The Social Network (2010), which won the duo as Oscar, as well as Gone Girl (2014) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). The Social Network’s music was only recently reissued on vinyl.
This time, Reznor and Ross have stripped off all technological advancements in the music industry and their own penchant for digital sounds, to create a score and soundtrack that is a raw celebration of the glossiest brass sections of the 1930-40s. They have used only period-authentic instruments from the 1940s to compose the film’s songs. Many of the tracks have swinging tempos, a range of horns, and sounds so typical of the time, that the music of this monochromatic ode to the past, is actually a wondrous range of colours. The heartfelt '(If Only You Could) Save' stands out in a massive list of songs, as does the ominous 'Trapped!'. You can’t help but dance to so many of the songs, like 'Cowboys and Indians'. The chunky bass, the energetic use of the saxophone and its ilk, and foot-tapping rhythm paints a sonic tapestry of musical history. You hear sizzles and hisses that are typical of music pressed in that era, as do you imagine the voices and clinking of glasses at cocktail parties. The rhythm of vintage cars rolling on undulating roads and the starkness of solitude through dark notes, also find place in this magnificent soundtrack.
Devoid of the usual modular synthesiser presence, Mank’s distinctly old Hollywood sound has inspired Reznor-Ross to submit for the postponed Oscars next year. Apart from the 52-track score, Reznor and Ross have also released the comprehensive version that features two more hours of unreleased music and demos from the Mank sessions, only on Bandcamp. Nine Inch Nails announced this on Twitter, saying: “These are additional and alternate compositions that didn’t get used in the film along with a selection of Trent and Atticus demos pre-orchestration. Obviously, these are available in the format of your choice, including lossless.” They also announced that while the score will make it to vinyl early next year, it will not contain the extra two hours of material.
Fincher, while discussing the movie with New York Magazine, said: “The music has been recorded with older microphones, so it has a sort of sizzle and wheeze around the edges — you get it from strings, but you mostly get it from brass. What you're hearing is a revival house — an old theatre playing a movie."
This authenticity of sound not just in spirit but in technique too has brought to the non-vinyl generation the warmth of analogue. There is way too much processing and distilling of sound in the digital era; the kind that puts even the tinny synth of the 1980s to shame. So when you watch Mank and listen to its score and various songs, you hear the process of sound engineering. The movie was visually shot in very high resolution and then compressed to degrade its quality to give it that 1930s vibe. In the process, they would’ve had to reconcile with losing a good portion of the resolution, but the result was reminiscent of the time the film was set in complete with little burns, scratches and all.
In yet another ode to the Hollywood of the past, Fincher admits Mank contains reel changes. "We made the soundtrack pop like it does when you do a reel changeover. It's one of the most comforting sounds in my life. They're so little that they're very difficult to hear until you hear them. It has what we ended up calling patina, these tiny little pops and crackles that happen, and they're very beautiful."
This beautiful soundtrack aside, Reznor and Ross have also been busy trying to complete an album, awaiting the release of Disney Pixar’s Soul on Christmas day and have even been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While the pandemic has seen musicians holed up at home, working on music that their otherwise busy lives would’ve not have made possible, one can expect the nominations for Oscars 2021 (to be announced in March) to see some spectacularly inspired entries. Mank will lead the pack as far as that goes and will undoubtedly make the cut.
Just as Herman Mankiewicz says in the movie: “You cannot capture a man's entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.”
Reznor and Ross have captured an entire bygone era in 52 tracks and have certainly left us with the impression of having lived at the time.
(All images from Twitter)
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